Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It’s Hip to be Square (and small)

Chalk it up to a delayed validation of the 1987 observation of Huey Lewis and the News. Lately, content providers and graphic designers agree that indeed, it is “Hip to be Square.”

Up until about 1995, when it came to the form factor of collateral material, the big decision that marcom professionals and other content providers needed to make: landscape or portrait? For most marcommers, especially those in B2B, easy-to-use and easy-to-create meant meeting standards and expectations. You always wanted to meet standards; of printing presses and paper inventory as well as envelope and file folder size. For the longest time, 8 ½” x 11”, either as a single sheet or folded from a larger sheet, was the de facto standard. If you felt a little rebellious, then you might print landscape, and damn the cost and extra time needed to produce.Woo hoo.

Along came digital publishing and the rectangular window we used to shape content was reinforced. Computer screens are rectangular, of course, although they’re oriented landscape. As a result, the integration  between collateral that is printed and what's shown on a screen is rotated 90 degrees - and no matter what you do, PDFs of most online documents are unfriendly. And even as “digital” increasingly means “mobile,” the rectangle still rules on smart phones and tablets.

Lately, though, a trend has emerged, at least on print collateral. Hip is now squarer – and smaller. Since our audience has so much content to choose from, we all need to differentiate what we create. One way to invite readers is with “smaller” (in size) print items. The small, square form factor sends a “go ahead, pick me up” message. The trend has been helped along by printers that have advanced in producing non-standard sizes without breaking the budget or the project time frame. Using a sheet-fed digital press, a printer can produce a small, square document two-up on a 13” x 19” sheet, trim, fold, and bind pretty quickly, at a reasonable added cost. The result is a piece that stands out from the rectangular crowd.

Case in point is this piece I picked up at Cleveland State University. By the way, it's refreshing to see the effect that effective, professionally produced content can have on an organization. Lots of good marcom work being produced at CSU over the last few years – a big upgrade. From highway billboards to web to print to canvas wrapped posters to table tents in the cafeteria, all of it is consistent without being cookie-cutter (not an easy feat over the long haul). Pleasing, creative design, cross-media integration of the main “Engage” message – and clearly a belief in investing in quality photography (what a concept! Actually hire a professional who can produced well-composed photos!). All well done.
And this piece can’t match the perfect square shape of an LP sleeve or CD-music case, this piece is more of a square than a digest-sized rectangle. At 5½” x 7”, it’s a distinctive, pleasing size; not quite square, but small.

So if you want to stand out, just consider that square - and small - is the new hip.

(NOTE: click here to listen to the song  – and watch a vinyl record spin, so I guess it
really is a music video; a unique mash-up, to be sure).


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